Former Indian tennis star Mahesh Bhupathi has said that the men’s doubles pairing of Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna did not practice and play enough together to give themselves a fair chance at winning a medal in the Rio Olympic Games.
Bhupathi told the Times of India, “The (men's) doubles team was definitely under-prepared, in fact there were no preparation - that's the right word. They did not practise, did not play any matches together. Even when Leander and me were not playing on tour in 2004 and 2008 (Olympic Games in Athens and Beijing), we always came together, played a couple of tournaments together. That's what the Olympics demands.”
At the Rio Olympic Games, the pairing of Paes and Bopanna crashed out after losing their first round match in straight sets against inexperienced Polish pair of Lukasz Kubot and Marcin Matkowski.
Bhupathi added, “We (he and Paes) won three hundred matches on (ATP) tour, (but) we (still) made an effort to do it. This time they went in cold. Obviously one (doubles) match against a dilapidated Korean Davis Cup team is not the way to prepare for the Olympics.”
Bhupathi was present as the chief guest at the inauguration of the 11Even Sports Inter Schools Maharashtra table tennis tournament.
The 42-year old also said that Sania Mirza and Bopanna had more of a chance to win a medal at the Games, “That (medal) was never going to happen in the doubles. Our best bet was mixed (doubles), but unfortunately we (India) came close, but it did not happen.”
The former player himself won three men’s doubles and four mixed doubles title in Grand Slam tournaments across the world.
Mirza and Bopanna, however, lost to the pairing of Serena Williams and Rajiv Ram in the semifinals of the mixed doubles’ competition and further lost in the bronze medal play-off too as they failed to finish on the podium.
Bhupathi did not seem lost for words when asked about the controversial build-up around India's men's doubles team in the run-up to the Games and just before the duo stepped on court. He said, “Everybody expected it. Everyone was keeping quiet till it actually surfaced. I am happy it did not get out of hand.”
Bhupathi and Paes played together for several years but fell out with each other. There was also controversy about Paes coming to the Rio Games late, which did not give the Paes-Bopanna pair enough time to gel together and have any chance of victory.